The Rush To Stop A Progressive Agenda Is Not Just About Republicans– Not At All

Virginia Blue Dog Abigail Spanberger– recruited in 2018 by the DCCC and EMILY’s List for her CIA experience– has been one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress. Only 4 House rotgut DINOs– Josh Gottheimer (Blue Dog-NJ), Jared Golden (Blue Dog-ME), Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA) and Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)– have worse voting records. The Republicans understand that progressives are unlikely to muster much enthusiasm to keep Spanberger in office and there are 7 confirmed Republican opponents already, including Amanda “Trump in heels” Chase. But NOT ONE primary opponent. This is terrible for two reasons: 1- an awful Republican-lite Democrat like Spanberger deserves a primary and 2- Spanberger has virtually no shot in hell to be reelected in the 2022 general. Last cycle, running against extremist nut-job Nick Freitas she only managed to slip back into office with 50.9% of the vote. Yesterday, always the harbinger of hopelessness, she told the NY Times that “Nobody elected [Biden] to be FDR, they elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.” At least, unlike Clinton era relic Jim Carville, she didn’t come right out and say it’s the wokes’ fault. Carville, a circular firing squad kind of guy on behalf of his corporate financiers, apparently unaware that fighters for Justice– and police reform– even won in places like Bozeman and Missoula, told PBS that “It just really has a suppressive effect all across the country on Democrats. Some of these people need to go to a ‘woke’ detox center or something. They’re expressing a language that people just don’t use, and there’s backlash and a frustration at that.”

Cook’s best elections numbers-monkey, Dave Wasserman, calculated that Republican candidates for New Jersey State Senate outperformed the 2020 Biden/Trump results in the districts by a median 10.8 points. In races for Virginia’s House of Delegates, the GOP beat the 2020 by a median 12.4 points. “If Republicans were to outperform the 2020 Biden/Trump margin by 10.8 points (New Jersey) in all 435 House seats in 2022, they would pick up 44 House seats for a 257R-178D majority. If they were to outperform by 12.3 points (Virginia), they would pick up a mammoth 51 seats for a 261R-174D split– and that’s not even factoring redistricting, which could help boost GOP fortunes even more.”

Probably the worst of the treacherous DINOs the Democrats had to contend with in recent times– the Kyrsten Sinema of his day– was Connecticut Benedict Arnold Joe Lieberman, who eventually quit the Democratic Party and spent the rest of his time in the Senate working to make sure nothing progressive ever happened and making everything Democrats did crappy and ineffective. His level of corruption cleared the path for brazen criminals like Manchin and Sinema. Yesterday Eoin Higgins, writing for The Intercept, noted that Lieberman, now an advocate for the GOP wedge inside the Democratic Party (No Labels), is urging Manchin and Sinema to fight his old ally, Joe Biden. He called on them to keep obstructing Build Back Better. After all, look how well that worked out for the GOP on Tuesday.

At a recent event promoting The Centrist Solution, his delusional new book, Lieberman boasted how he killed the public option for the Affordable Care Act, turning Obamacare into a failure that caused the loss of dozens of Democratic seats in Congress.

Lieberman discussed his role in ACA negotiations and his work with No Labels, which has sought to constrain the Build Back Better bill. The current makeup and hyperpartisan politics of the Senate give members of the ruling party outsize power in shaping legislation, but the razor-thin Democratic majority means that the party needs every member on board. “For people, let’s say on a more progressive or liberal side of the party, if they want to get anything done, they’ve got to get Manchin and Sinema,” Lieberman said.

…With Republicans pledging to filibuster any health care bill from Democrats and the ruling party unready then as now to blow up the procedural relic, it fell on the White House and Senate leadership to convince holdouts to vote for the bill. To Lieberman, the inclusion of a public option made the bill a “budget buster” and not one he was willing to support.

Ultimately, Lieberman won the concession from the Obama administration and solidified his position as a villain of the liberal left in the late Bush and early Obama years. “When it comes down to it, I like to think that I was the 60th vote that enabled the Senate to adopt Obamacare and get it done,” Lieberman said last week.

“But I did oppose the public option because to me, it was an attempt to get the foot in the door for national health insurance, which I thought would compromise the quality of health care in America,” he added.

In 2014, a year after leaving the Senate, Lieberman joined the centrist dark-money group No Labels, for which he now serves as co-chair. The group has fought to curtail the size and scope of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better domestic spending bill and has called for it to be separated from the bipartisan infrastructure bill– a move that would strip progressives of their leverage to pass the ambitious social spending legislation. “It looks like now they might adopt it,” Lieberman told WAMC of the infrastructure bill, “maybe this week or next week, and then move on to a compromise bill on the bigger one. And I think that would be the beginning of a breakthrough.”

On Monday, the No Labels official website echoed that message in a blog post recapping the state of play in Washington, stopping just short of calling to scrap the $1.75 trillion domestic spending plan completely. Instead, the group endorsed a two-track solution that pushed infrastructure forward and left Build Back Better spinning its wheels.

“The House can and should get infrastructure done,” the group wrote. “Both houses should take time to think about the rest.”

It’s a message that will run into trouble with progressives like Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Congressional Progressive Caucus whip. After Manchin threw up yet another hurdle to the process, declaring that he had not signed off on the framework of the social spending bill, Omar made it clear that her patience was at its limits. “We are not playing Manchin’s games anymore,” she tweeted Monday.

No Labels has been an enthusiastic and prominent supporter of right-wing Democrats working to stymie, if not outright kill, the social spending bill. In August, the dark-money group cut an ad celebrating the intransigence of nine House Democrats who attempted to force the vote on the infrastructure bill. While the tactic was a strategic failure– the bill still hasn’t come to a floor vote, more than two months after the group demanded immediate action– it paid off in a more literal sense. The cohort’s leader, Rep. Josh Gottheimer(D-NJ) has since raked in hundreds of thousands of dollars from No Labels-linked donors, as have several of his allies.

Comparison between Lieberman during the Obama administration and Manchin and Sinema during the Biden administration have become somewhat of a cliché in recent weeks as the two right-wing Democrats have relentlessly cut the bill down to a top line of $1.75 trillion, less than half the already compromised $3.5 trillion price tag. Lieberman told WAMC that because “sometimes all it takes is one or two votes” to get legislation passed, Manchin and Sinema should do what they can to affect the bill’s final form as much as possible.

It’s not advice they needed to hear– Sinema and Manchin have both worked to water down the bill and protect their respective pet interests. In Manchin’s case, that means a focus on providing continuing opportunities for fossil fuel extraction and harsh means testing for social programs. For Sinema, as near as anyone can tell, that means keeping wealthy Americans from paying more in taxes and ensuring that the bill does as little as possible to disrupt the rapacious capital interests that pour money into her campaign coffers.

The behavior of the two senators has members of their own caucus tearing out their hair. Any compromise is still a moving target with demands and declarations from the pair changing by the day and often contradicting one another.

But for Lieberman, a cheerleader for the pair and for the kind of line-in-the-sand negotiation style they’re deploying, the tactic is just as valid now as it was in 2010. The back and forth over the ACA would consume the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Democrats would not hold both chambers of Congress and the White House again until January 2021.

“The centrists are going to play a bigger role– if they want,” Lieberman said. “And everybody else just has to accept that if they want to get something done.”

Branko Marcetic claims progressives do have some leverage against Manchin— which they have been using and should not give up on: his (and Sinema’s) mania to pass the shitty conservative transportation infrastructure bill (“BIF”) that was written solely by self-appointed conservatives with ZERO input from progressives or even normal Democrats.

With the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the verge of surrender, Marcetic brought up a proposition worth pondering: “Manchin, who seems driven mostly by personal enrichment and corporate campaign donations, would happily walk away from the whole process with ‘zero,’ as he reportedly told Bernie Sanders behind closed doors. But what if that wasn’t true?” Is it still possible to hold the line and come out of this in such a way that the American people win at least something worthwhile that progressives vowed to deliver? (Or… is it worth breaking up the corporate Democratic Party over lower drug prices, fair taxation and dental bills?)

Belying Manchin’s threats is a desire to get the BIF passed, something that’s repeatedly slipped through in his messaging. “We should just pass the infrastructure bill and, you know, pause for six months,” he reportedly said shortly after threatening Sanders. Central to his high-profile Monday announcement was a demand that the House hold an up-or-down vote on the bill immediately. A week earlier, Manchin had again told reporters that “we owe it to the president to move forward, take a vote on the infrastructure bill.”

It’s easy to understand why. If corporate interests explain Manchin’s opposition to reconciliation, they also underwrite his need to pass the BIF. And it suggests Manchin might have a lot more to lose from a game of brinkmanship that torpedoes the bill than he’s publicly letting on.

West Virginia has long suffered from underinvestment in core physical infrastructure. Last December, it got no less than five “D” grades from the American Society of Civil Engineers, with the shrinking, cash-poor state needing upwards of $5 billion to bring it up to scratch, from roads and bridges to dams and water quality.

This situation has an obvious impact on the quality of life for people who live in the state, but it’s also a profound drag on its private sector, from airlines and the tourism industry it relies on, to the businesses whose supply chains and services depend on reliable transportation, and all of which need a dependable workforce that wants to live and work in the state. An August survey shows large majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans all back the BIF that would help fix this state of affairs.

Little wonder then that much of West Virginia’s political establishment is enthusiastically behind the BIF. Republican governor Jim Justice has called the bill “unbelievably important” and said that he has “more wishes and hopes than I have concerns” about it. Same goes for down-ballot officials, like Republican Mercer County commissioner Greg Puckett, who doubles as the chair of the National Association of Counties Rural Action Caucus.

He’s said the state’s infrastructure problems have left it at a “great disadvantage” and that the bill would “make us more competitive not only on a national scale but on a global scale.” (Justice and Puckett had also backed the larger reconciliation bill). Legislators have long been especially desperate to fix the state’s dire high-speed internet access, which ranks forty-eighth in the nation.

“Any kind of help federally that we can get to, to help West Virginia, then that is going to help us transition from the downward spiral to drawing more people into our population,” Republican state senator Rollan Roberts told Reuters in April, adding that broadband funding would aid the state’s “survival.” (The BIF would give the state at least $100 million to ensure broadband coverage).

So politically beneficial is the bill that this coalition includes Manchin’s counterpart, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, one of the country’s most pro-Trump Republicans. Despite her history as a deficit hawk, and despite her own leader’s public vow to block Biden’s agenda, Capito took a leading role in working with the White House to craft and push the bill forward earlier this year, citing the “great need in West Virginia” for infrastructure improvements.

So it’s little surprise Manchin has made every effort to take credit for the bill, too. In videos and press releases, he’s labeled it his infrastructure bill, and has called the bill a “historical investment in America’s infrastructure, one so monumental and unlike anything we’ve seen in over thirty years.” In an August op-ed widely reprinted in the state’s local press, Manchin detailed the benefits of the legislation, which he said “delivers for West Virginians.”

The full-throated, across-the-board support within the state for the BIF calls into question Manchin’s relaxed public posture toward walking away with nothing. Delivering its benefits would be key for a politician who’s flirting with running for another Senate term in the state, or even another shot at the governor’s mansion. On the other hand, being seen within the state to have jeopardized it by playing a high-stakes game of chicken could have serious ramifications for any future run.

Some of Manchin’s critics might counter that this is all irrelevant, because voters aren’t his real constituency– it’s state and national business groups. But these quarters are similarly eager to get the BIF passed, too.

In West Virginia, the bill has been endorsed by the state’s Chamber of Commerce, whose president has called it a “very, very high priority” and said its funding is needed for the state’s private sector “to conduct commerce.” The executive director of the Contractors Association of West Virginia has similarly touted the importance to the state’s “economic future” of the bill’s funding for the “safety, security, and stability of our roads and bridges.”

Some of the BIF’s major corporate backers also happen to be donors to Manchin. First among them is the US Chamber of Commerce, which has loudly and consistentlybacked the bill, owing to its benefits to business.

“This is overdue promises,” Suzanne Clark, its president and CEO told the local press in September. “We’ve been trying to get this done at the US Chamber for over a decade, we’re really proud of getting it over the finish line. We are anxious to get the House to pass it and get it on the president’s desk.”

Manchin and Clark appeared together at the state’s annual business summit, where Manchin spoke at a segment titled “Chambers of Commerce Shaping National Policy.” The US Chamber has previously given Manchin its “Spirit of Free Enterprise” award for voting in accordance with its priorities more than 70 percent of the time, and donated $2,500 to his campaign earlier this year.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, which has pointed to the pandemic-inspired supply chain shocks as for why the BIF’s passage is so desperately needed by its members, gave Manchin the same amount this year. The National Association of Manufacturers, another big business group backing the bill, donated $2,500 to Manchin over 2019 and 2020.

In July, more than a hundred forty executives signed a letter “urging rapid passage” of the “desperately needed” BIF. Six executives and two PACs representing eight of the companies listed have given Manchin a total of $24,200 this year, including Blackstone, Apollo Global Management, Lazard, Trian Partners, and Centerview Partners. (The high number of finance firms is likely owing to the bill’s Wall Street–backed provision for privatizing infrastructure).

PACs for United Airlines and Morgan Stanley also gave thousands each to Manchin in 2020 and 2019, respectively, years that saw the S&P Global Inc. PAC and a Guardian Life Insurance partner and senior associate give him a total of $4,500 — all firms that appear on the letter.

Special mention goes to one company in particular: Virgin Hyperloop, a subsidiary of billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group devoted to developing a transport system it claims can shuttle passengers in a near-vacuum at up to 670 mph.

Last year the company chose West Virginia out of seventeen states to host its certification center and test track, a major public announcement that Manchin, Capito, and Justice all eagerly attended. (Two of the company’s executives donated $3,300 to Manchin shortly after that announcement).

Manchin has fought for the project since 2019, meeting with its leadership and writing a letter supporting their move to the state. Much to the company’s delight, funding and government support for the project happens to have been included in the BIF, at no small expense to them: filings show that over the last three quarters, Virgin Hyperloop has spent a total of $480,000 so far lobbying on funding for and regulation of the project, including specifically on the legislation that ended up being rolled into the BIF.

There’s also something personal at stake for Manchin: the bill hands out $1 billion to the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federally funded economic development partnership Manchin’s wife was appointed by Biden to cochair. This is particularly ironic, given Manchin’s complaint that the original $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill he hacked to pieces would’ve created an “entitlement mentality.”

So not only are large, small, and state-based businesses reliant on the BIF passing, a number of them donors to Manchin’s campaigns, but ventures personally linked to him will financially benefit from its passage– or, if it fails, lose out.

As progressives weigh whether to back Jayapal’s plan to give up their leverage– or even pull a Manchin and walk away entirely, given that he’s gone so far in eviscerating the reconciliation bill he’s arguably given up his own— they have a question to ask: Is Manchin truly willing to face backlash from voters, politicians, donors, and businesses (not to mention give up free money) by walking away and failing to deliver on infrastructure? Or is he in the middle of a high-wire act, counting on progressives not to stand firm and to capitulate to his bluff as usual?

John Kilwein, political science professor at West Virginia University, isn’t 100 percent sure either. Earlier this year, as Capito furiously worked to make the infrastructure bill a reality, Kilwein had warned: “She has to be careful, because she can’t do the traditional Republican ‘We can’t afford it and walk away’ [approach], because enough West Virginians would benefit from this.”

Asked yesterday if that still applies, in this case to Manchin, he said that things may have changed since then. Manchin’s opposition has been so “prominent and adamant,” says Kilwein, he could be pursuing a delicate strategy of trying to overcome his slim 2018 winning margin by appealing to enough Republicans to make up for the Democratic voters he’s alienating right now.

“I still think it’s a poker ploy,” he says. “And if it does break down, he can say it’s due to progressives.”

It’s a question progressives will have to consider now. Squad members have said any concessions are possible thanks to the Democrats’ slim House majority and talked aboutusing their leverage to secure their priorities. Before they give that leverage away, they should remember they’re not the only ones with plenty of chips on the table.

Montana Progressive Democrat Tom Winter flipped a state legislative seat in western Montana that had voted +11 for Trump. Now he’s running for the brand new congressional district in that part of the state. This is what he told me yesterday about Tuesday’s local elections in his district: 


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